How do I keep the kids entertained while I mow the lawn? Water painting. All you need is a bucket of water, paintbrushes, and a fence. It’s free and it’s fun and it doesn’t make a mess. Plus kids can practice all kinds of things:
- patterns- use the fence pickets
- math problems
- sight words or spelling words
- and my daughters’ favorite: splattering
It isn’t the same as practicing handwriting with a pencil and paper, but that’s the point. Sometimes kids need a break from the routine. Novelty makes learning fun. Who wouldn’t want to practice their spelling words outside with a paintbrush in the sunshine instead of at the kitchen table?
So you’ve got a little kitchen set for your kiddo. Here are some ways to learn with all that plastic food (you know, instead of just tripping over it)….
- See if your child can name all the pieces of food.
- Select food and have a pretend picnic.
- Set up a pretend restaurant. Take turns being the customer and waiter/waitress and cook.
- Arrange food in rows and go shopping with a basket. Pretend to check-out and use real money.
- Sort food by color.
- Sort food by food group.
- Pick out two or more foods that start with the same letter.
- Look for shapes. Which foods are spheres? Are any flat like a circle? What about a cylinder?
- Find and count certain foods. How many eggs are there? How many oranges?
- Compare quantities. Are there more yellow foods or green foods? How many more lemons than tomatoes?
- Use food to represent addition or subtraction problems. I have four apples, then I give two to you. How many do I have now?
- Play “I’m thinking of a food.” Use adjectives to describe a piece of food to each other and take turns guessing.
- Play a memory game. Place a few foods in front of your child. Then have her close her eyes and take a food away. Ask which one was removed.
- Put a food in a sack and see if you can guess what it is just by touch.
- Go on a food scavenger hunt. Write down a list of foods to find (something to eat for breakfast, a vegetable, a food that starts with the letter B, etc.) and then see if your child can find them all!
If you can learn with cans, why not boxes? We collected empty cardboard boxes for a few weeks to make “box blocks.” For boxes that didn’t close on their own, I taped them shut. The kids really got excited about adding to our box collection. And we were able to see just how many boxes our family uses…and have a talk about the importance of recycling! That is a learning experience in itself, but here are some other things you can teach with boxes…
Common Core Standards appear in italics. They correlate with specific standards in different grade levels. These standards are used in almost every school in the country. Click the Common Core tab above to learn more.)
- Colors- Talk about the different colors on the boxes, then divide them into groups or make a rainbow.
- Size- Compare sizes of boxes. Put them in order from smallest to biggest.
- Counting– How many boxes in all? Count how many you can stack in a tower.
- Addition and Subtraction– How many cereal boxes plus fruit snack boxes do we have? (first grade- Represent and solve problems involving addition and subtraction)
- Geometry- Talk about 2D vs 3D. Use the word rectangular prism. How many rectangles make up a box? (kindergarten- Identify shapes as two-dimensional or three-dimensional)
- Measurement- Use a ruler to measure boxes length, width, and depth. (second grade- Measure and estimate lengths in standard units)
- Classification- Sort the boxes into groups based on color, size, or type of food. (kindergarten- Classify objects into given categories; count the numbers of objects in each category and sort the categories by count)
- Reading– Beginning readers might be able to read some of the labels using the picture as a clue. If they know it is a pizza box, see if they can pick out the word “pizza.”
- Letters- Try to make letters or even words out of the small boxes.
- Creative building– Design your own sculpture with box blocks!
Or combine all the above into a scavenger hunt. Scatter the boxes around the room and then shout out things to find. “Find a green box and bring it to me. Which box would we use to eat breakfast? Find the largest box. Can you find the letter T on a box?” This is great way to get kids moving and learning at the same time.
We recently discovered water beads. You see, there is this thing called “Pinterest” that has all sorts of ideas for kids. You should really check it out. 🙂 So I ordered some from Amazon (a 2-oz pack of Jelly Beadz), but I hear you get them even cheaper at dollar stores or floral supply stores.
Water beads are awesome. They start out tiny and very hard, then you soak them in water for a few hours. They soak up the water and become large and gelatinous. That is a cool word. But not cooler than water beads. Seriously. As fun as it is to feel then between your toes (try it!), you can also LEARN with them. I know. Mind blown.
- Fine Motor Skills– They are SLIPPERY! It takes a steady hand and pincer grip to pick them up. Or try scooping them up one a time with a spoon. We even tried chopsticks. I think it is impossible.
- Colors– Sort by color into smaller containers.
- Language– Use adjectives to describe how water beads look, feel, etc.
- Letters- Use the water beads to “hide” plastic letters, then go on a letter hunt.
- Estimation– Choose a small container and estimate how many water beads will fill it up. Then find out!
- Counting- Take turns grabbing handfuls and counting how many you can hold.
- Addition and Subtraction- Math is more fun when you have wiggly water beads to add together or take away.
- Patterns- Make a pattern with the colors. It is difficult to make the beads line up, but that is part of the fun!
- Capacity– Kids will naturally want to fill up containers, so throw some measuring cups and let the kids explore. They can see firsthand how many 1/4 cups it takes to fill up a cup.
- Hypothesize and Experiment- Do water beads bounce? Can you squish them? What happens when you put them in salt?
And speaking of experiments, Creekside Learning offers a free printable science observation worksheet that is perfect for older kids.
*Disclaimer- Water beads look a lot like candy. I wouldn’t use them with babies or toddlers who like to put things in their mouths.
So easy. Fold toilet paper tubes to make a triangle and square. Lucky you, the circle is already done. 🙂 Then dip the ends in paint, stamp on paper, and you have a shape masterpiece! This is a great craft for toddlers who haven’t mastered painting with a brush. You can talk about shapes and colors while you create.
You might want to give them one color at a time or else this happens…
I saw this idea for making popsicle stick shapes on Pinterest from A, Bee C, Preschool. So fun and easy! She wrote the shape names on the sticks and also made paper shapes that fit inside the stick shapes. Of course I had to make it even easier.
- Color the sticks with markers. This was my girls’ favorite part. I gave them a certain amount of sticks and a marker and let them do the rest.
- Put all the sticks together.
- Identify colors by saying “Find all the green sticks!”
- Make a shape with the sticks by connecting them end to end. Identify the shape. Count the sides and corners.
I liked leaving the sticks plain so the kids could play with them in other ways. We made symmetrical designs and played “continue the color pattern” with the sticks after we made shapes.
Some other ideas:
- Glue the sticks down on paper
- Draw around the sticks to make the shape
- Glue the ends of the sticks to make permanent shapes
- Use playdough or marshmallows to “glue” them together temporarily
I love super simple crafts that 1) don’t require me to go to the store to hunt down materials 2) can be completed by a preschooler with minimal help. Some might call it laziness. I call it….okay, laziness. Big Sis and I saw a paper bird in a book and we made some changes and came up with this:
Big Sis’s bird is in front and I like it better than mine. Humph. This is why preschoolers should be doing the crafts and not me.
So here’s how you make your very own symmetry shape bird:
- Cut out large circle and two small triangles from blue paper. Then one more small triangle from yellow paper. To make it easy (and teach symmetry), fold the paper and cut out half of the shape. Unfold to see that both sides are the same. Talk about the line of symmetry.
- Glue the yellow triangle and one blue triangle on top of the circle by lining up the fold lines. Triangles should point opposite ways. Talk about line of symmetry again.
- Turn over.
- Cut other blue triangle in half (on the fold line) to make two wings. Glue on wings (symmetrically of course).
- Draw eyes. Draw lines or marks on the wings and tail. Talk about symmetry and drawing the same thing on both sides.
- Re-fold on the line of symmetry and BAM you are finished! Now let your bird take flight!*
- blue and yellow paper
*Birds are made of paper and will not actually “fly.” But still a fun craft, right?
We want the girls to sit at the table until everyone is finished eating (or at least wait for each other). So after talking about the activities of the day, we get a little creative to keep them in their seats. And so “dinner math” was born. There are plenty of things around the table to show math “in the real world” plus they are a captive audience. 🙂 I realize it’s probably not the best table manners to turn dinner time into a math game, so feel free to ignore this if it doesn’t fit with your family.
- Count the pieces of food on her tray.
- Count the number of bites while you spoon-feed her.
- Talk about the shapes of the food.
- Use words to compare amounts such as “There are more banana slices than crackers on your plate.”
- Identify 2D and 3D shapes of the food, plates, cups, and even the table itself. “Can you find a circle? How about a cylinder?”
- Count items on the table. “How many plates are on the table? How many forks?”
- Use items on the table for simple addition problems. If they are stumped, help them count the items. “I see two forks and two spoons. How many pieces of silverware in all?”
- Compare numbers. “Do you have more apple slices or carrots on your plate?”
- Use table items or food for addition and subtraction problems. “How many forks + spoons + bowls are on the table?”
- Ask problems where you can’t count items on the table to find the answer. “I bought fifteen potatoes and cooked six of them for dinner. How many are still in the bag?”
- Skip count using table items. “Each person has a cup and a plate. Count by twos to find how many there are in all.”
- Estimate and count to find out how many. “How many green beans do you think are on your plate?”
- Eat in a pattern. Take a bite of one thing, then two bites of another food, and see if they can continue the pattern!
- Talk about fractions. “Please eat at least half of your dinner. ” 🙂
- Ask random addition, subtraction, or multiplication facts. But don’t stop there!*
*Some kids love getting quizzed on math facts. So, if your kids enjoy it- go ahead! Drill and practice of facts WILL make math easier for them. But don’t forget to talk about the “why” behind the answer. Talking about the process of solving a problem helps kids develop logical thinking and better number sense. They will use those skills as the math gets more complex. So after you ask “What’s 6 +7?” ask “How did you figure that out?” or How do you know that is the correct answer?” Usually kids will say, “I just knew it.” Talk through some ideas like “Well, 6+6=12 and 7 is one more than 6. So the answer to 6+7 is one more than 12.” Or maybe you know the fact 7+7=14 so 6+7 is one less. Or maybe you break apart the 7 into 3+4 and you know 6+4=10, then it is easy to add on 3 more to make 13. Explaining mathematical thinking will benefit kids even more than memorization. Besides, what else are you going to do while you wait for them to eat their peas?
What can you do with leftover birthday balloons? How about make a number line? This is an easy game that gets kids moving and works on math skills, too.
- Write numbers 1-10 on ten balloons with a sharpie. (I also wrote some letters to see if my three-year-old knew the difference between numbers and letters.)
- Scatter the balloons around your backyard or around your house.
- Ready, set, RUN and get a balloon!
- Bring it back to a central location to make a number line. Ask questions to help little kids figure out where to place their balloon. Should 10 be on the left or right? Is 3 before or after 4? Should 8 be closer to 1 or 10?
Variations for older kids:
- Write numbers 1-20
- Skip count by 2’s, 5’s, or 10’s
- Write random numbers 1-100
Common Core Standard
(kindergarten- Know number names and count sequence)